Monday, December 04, 2006

I got home before sunrise

This morning I went in search of another Iridium satellite. I got up at 5:30 and bundled up in my warmest clothes because it was incredibly cold. I think it was below freezing. I found out how cold it really was when I set up the tripod for my camera. The aluminum was so cold that it HURT my hands. I waited probably ten minutes in a small, church parking lot in the middle of nowhere, which was the closest I could get to the center of the reflection path, before I saw the satellite, dim at first, looking like a little star, following its preordained path.

Satellites, which are high above the Earth, reflect sunlight down to the ground. In order to see the reflection one has to stand in the right place at the right time. I recently wrote about a site called Heavens Above that will accurately predict satellite pass-overs at or near your location. I found out about this particular satellite on Heavens Above.

So I'm standing there next to my tripod-mounted camera, which is pointed in the direction where the satellite is supposed to be at its brightest, where it is supposed to "flare", and I'm scanning the patch of sky where the satellite is supposed to appear when I see the dim dot moving steadily overhead from the North to the South. I shouted,"That's my boy!" at the top of my lungs (okay, that's a lie) and I turned to put my finger on the button of my camera, and when I looked back the satellite was in mid flare. I pressed the button and my camera took a 48 second exposure at ISO 100. I caught this cool picture (Well, it is to me anyway. To you it probably just looks like a bug that went splat on your windshield) of Iridium 53 in mid-flare and as it dimmed back into nothingness.

The satellite shown down at a magnitude of -8. Our brightest stars are in the range of 0 to -1. By comparison the full moon is around -12 and the sun is -26. Clearly, the lower the number, the brighter the object.

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